Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Emerging/Emergent Church and American Politics
One of the interesting things about being a twenty-something evangelical in the new millenium has been to watch the awakening of sorts my generation is having in regard to pressing issues of the day: war, genocide, poverty, and the environment, to name a few. One other aspect of our coming of age is our cultural interaction and awareness. We are more aware of the culture's media of expression than any generation before us. We don't just affirm a multicultural United States, we live in one--whether we or our parents like it or not. Those raised in Christian homes were raised by neo-evangelicals most likely, so they aren't just curious or wary about pop culture, they love it. What is more, they view that cultural interaction as a necessary ingredient in a fruitful missional way of life. These young people and their attitudes are the Emergent Church. First, let me say that these are simply my admittedly limited observations of, and experiences with it and its people. I'm personally inclined and trained to think politically about these and other movements. I don't aim to be ungracious, but A) political scientists are in the business of generalizations, and B) it's my opinion. If I cause you offense, that is regrettable, but perhaps unavoidable.
It looks to me that the Emergent Church serves twin needs, as observed by my generation. First, it speaks in a missional language that is culture-saturated, which accepts postmodernism not as a thing to be destroyed, but as the new worldview paradigm that we all must labor under.
Second, it sees the need to expand the scope of Christian social concern beyond that of personal (and sexual) morality. What I want people to really understand is that the battlefield of American politics is actually creating the Emergent Church. I cannot justly accuse every member or leader of a lack of biblical fidelity or inappropriate political involvement (quite the opposite, usually) but I'll state it bluntly and then explain: the Emerging/Emergent Church is a progressive (left-leaning) political movement with Christian evangelical overtones.
Within theology, the renewed emphasis on biblical theology is the driving force behind the rejection of the older evangelical allegiance to the Republican Party. Political parties themselves only exist to win elections. It's not their job to give adherents a comprehensive worldview. In fact, the only motivation party leaders have to tell a "story" in terms of the nation comes because A) it works on people, and 2) is useful for that current cycle in defeating the opponent. This is why I always laugh when someone says, with deep conviction, "Neither party represents the 'Christian way' or matches my views." Why would they? That would be contrary to their purpose. Noone should be surprised that, as 'storied hermeneutics' gains an even stronger grasp over the evangelical mind, political confusion will increase. Our political system, for the sake of governance, is built on dichotomous allegiances and personal compromise (the two-party system).
Older generations were deeply influenced by Pietistic theological traditions; their (over)emphasis on personal morality stuck with them as they involved themselves in politics. The problem is, their politics determined their theological emphases as well. The Republican resurgence (and I am one, so I speak delicately here) in the 1970s and 80s was a reaction against the utopian certainties of the New Deal, which held sway well into the 1970s. The 1960s was chaotic; it was fertile ground for a political realignment. Pietism in its worst forms is dualistic: this world is bad, but the next will be great. And if people must be involved, surely the part we can control would be our own souls and bodies. And the Republican Party would naturally accept any doubters of the progressive order, no matter the reason. For the evangelical, it was a suspicion of that order, not its rejection. But that was good enough. Anyway, every political movement is a focused overreaction, and the story of politics is the ebb and flow of these overreactions over time.
This generation is rejecting the political story told by the GOP over the last 30 years. They may not even think of themselves as political, and they may resent the idea that they are playing out a fairly predictable role in American political life, but that's reality. In crass, unfair political terms, the whole movement portends a Democratic realignment, because we have witnessed the end of an era.
The problem is, Christian people who expand their worldview in reaction to a political story they are rejecting without knowing it is political risk becoming pawns in the next struggle, because they don't understand politics or economics. They're default progressives because they have accepted tacitly the idea that they need a unifying story that is political to match the spiritual one that is the gospel. Non-Republican political actors are all too ready to reject the once dominant political story and to embrace those rejecting it, for their own reasons.
If evangelicals want to be politically progressive, they should say so. The worst aspect of the whole movement is the ignorance among them of the progressive movement's true goals, and then accidentally (or deceptively) embracing those as a matter of the gospel. When I read Donald Miller or some snippet of McClaren, Rob Bell, even Mark Driscoll, I hear, "I'm a progressive, and I'm proud of it!" And if that's what they intend, good for them. But if it's out of ignorance, they simply sound ill-informed, as if it's more important to criticize one ideology over another. And do they realize that simply being passionate about an issue does not guarantee that the means of combatting the problem is either the most effective, or the most conducive to liberty?
It's irrelevant to observe that one party or the other fails to contain all the imperatives of the gospel. Ministers would do well to respect the political process, not simply being "non-partisan" or "independent," but either well-informed as to the actual issues, or silent. Simply because one ideology or group appears to be correcting whatever truncations of the gospel have occurred in the past (by ostensibly talking about certain issues more, e.g. poverty) doesn't mean that we should embrace those political imperatives as a matter of faith. Let's respect the intelligence of Christian people, and that of political actors. Nor will it do to point out the old guard's politically-driven exegesis if one denies your own. Indeed, it is the emergent tendency to deny traditional doctrines for the sake of spurning the old guard's politics, all while denying their motivation is political.
I suppose the thing to watch now is whether the traditionalist, liturgical movement among other evangelicals has a corresponding political effect, or it simply balances out emergent theology.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I just got done listening to a few songs by Madonna (yes, Madonna) and having a conversation with myself, or with Madonna, about what I would say to her if I had the chance. First, I'd tell her, "Thanks for the music." I may not like every song of hers, but I like enough of them to make it the truth. Then I'd frankly ask her if leaving her Catholic faith was, in her mind, a good move. I mean, it's not like she went down the street to the Presbyterian church, either. She has left Jesus himself. [Note: Please don't bother writing me and telling me some variation of, "Well, Jesus isn't in the Catholic Church." If you were lucky enough that I wrote you back, I'd tell you you're quite wrong, and then I would beg of God's grace so that I didn't yell at you ungracious things. Thank you, please drive through.] In any case, I don't think I fully realize the gravity of refusing Jesus Christ. I may well know the blessing of accepting Him, but not the curse of its opposite.
On the other hand, "You're going to hell!" [Spoken in an angry, gravelly, voice] usually doesn't work. On another hand still, many say that the best repentance comes out of love, not fear. So, it might not even be best for people to tell them this, even though it may be true.
Think of all the famous people whose talents you appreciate and enjoy. That shouldn't be hard; we Americans are obsessed with celebrities. The ones you really admire truly are like friends. If they had a few minutes to spend with you, what would you say? Alright, let's say 20 minutes. A "good conversation" (paging Ken Watanabe!) would have to be that long. What would you say, Christian?
I thought of these 5 people I'd preach to, if given the chance: [Note: Assuming first, that their departures from some reasonably orthodox form of Christianity are still recoverable, and second that they are not already Christians.]

(not in a particular order necessarily)

5. Tom Brady, quarterback, NFL's New England Patriots.

4. Brett Favre, quarterback, (retired, for the moment) NFL's Green Bay Packers/Atlanta Falcons/New York Jets.

3. US President George W. Bush (2001-2009)

2. US President Barack Obama (2009-present)

1. Tom Cruise, actor.
I was listening to music again, this time using my computer, with my imeem account. Somehow, I found my way into the country genre, and the music of the venerable, legendary, incomparable George Strait. Actually, I know the way I got there: via Ty Herndon's music, this site or some person calling a song "related" when it is nothing of the sort. Anyway, I thought it would be the subject of a nice diverting top 5 list, when I realized to my horror (and probably to my spiritual detriment!) that it would be impossible to rank even my 5 favorite George Strait songs. The man has 57 number one singles. He's probably singing 58, 59, and 60 right now. And that's just the number ones. So I knew only one way to settle this: Listen to 5 Strait songs at random, and merely note them in that manner. So, without further ado:

Five Great Songs At Random From The Obscenely Amazing Catalog Of George Strait:

5. "Amarillo By Morning"

4. "All My Ex's Live In Texas"

3. "You Look So Good In Love"

2. "The Chair"

1. "I Can Still Make Cheyenne"

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Top 5 Reasons Dr. Scott Hahn Fries The Bacon On My Theological BLT: (in other words, is awesome)

5. He uses the Bible. A lot. And well.

4. Silly word puns in the chapters of his books.

3. He was a Presbyterian.

2. He isn't now! :) (and that's at least terribly interesting)

1. Dr. Hahn is effectively (and lovingly) mocking President Obama and the death-cult he is leading, having had six children.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lennox Lewis, the noted British heavyweight boxing champion, is being inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame. Boxing is my second-favorite sport, behind baseball. Still, my appreciation has grown mostly in this decade, bolstered by ESPN's "Wednesday/Friday Night Fights," but having its real genesis in "Tuesday Night Fights" which used to air on USA Network in the 90s when I grew up. (Thanks, Kenny Albert & "The Champ" Sean O'Grady.) You see, free boxing on TV is so beautiful and tragic. You see the young up-and-comers before fame and Pay-Per View snatches them up. You also get to see the journeymen, who fight because they love it, or because they have nothing else. In the same way baseball types get sappy about the minors and Little League ('when it was a game', it goes, before something was lost) boxing fans are the same way. Now, on national TV with ESPN is a pretty huge deal, one can surely say. But you won't see a mega-fight (not a pre-hyped one, anyway) and you still get the drama I was talking about. One thing you realize when watching the brutal glory that is boxing: these are real people. They might be crazy or stupid,--and everything in between--but people they are.
I wonder if boxing is inherently sinful, though. I'm taking a shot in the dark that in Heaven with God, we won't watch these brutal contests. On the other hand, you can surely be a great fighter (even a really hard-punching, cut-inducing one) and still love our Lord Jesus Christ with all that you are. And that goes for everyone involved, including the audience. I mean, wasn't that one of the things we love about the fictional champ Rocky? He's pious. And courageous. And loving. And steady as a rock. He took a few wrong turns here and there, but really, shake it all out, and most people would say that emulating this character would be a good thing to do. And we could also say we wish we knew a guy like him if we don't.
But I digress. This was going to be about Lennox Lewis. What was he, about 6'5," 230-240 pounds, with an 82-inch reach? And quick as lightning. How did this guy ever lose? I can see where his critics point to lack of effort, and to the fact that his fights weren't always exciting. But I have enjoyed watching some of his fights on ESPN Classic, in honor of his induction. We might rightly be dismayed my the proliferation of boxing federations (which award meaningless, and often far too numerous titles) corrupt judging, record-padding promoters and fighters who dodge the fights we want, and tons of other things. In addition, the 1990s were considered weak by many purists. Still, I like Lewis, and I'm happy he's being honored. In honor of this, I give you another top 5 list:

JK's 5 Favorite Fighters (note 'Favorite,' not the best, necessarily)

5. Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker--I have only seen his fights in footage, since he fought mostly before I watched the sport. But he was one of the fastest--in both foot and fist--that the sport has ever seen. You will never see someone better at not getting hit. End of story. He didn't knock many dudes out, but who cares? He made boxing pretty.

4. Chris Byrd--Not nearly as legendary as Whitaker, but hands nearly as fast. I saw him on USA when I was about 16, when he was young, and thought, "He's one to watch." You'll note, he's still around. There has been some disappointment with the fulfillment of his potential (and he's running out of time) but he's got serious skills, and his early days won't let you down.

3. James "Lights Out" Toney--Another story of somewhat unfulfilled potential (and I think still active) when he's in top form, his defense and accuracy are a credit to the sport. He's not always in top form, but I can't not watch when he fights.

2. "The Golden Boy" Oscar De La Hoya--Having earned his nickname as the unlikely Olympic champion for the United States in 1992, Oscar went on to become a legend and champion in multiple weight divisions. (6?) Right at this very moment, he's the biggest draw in the sport, though he retired just weeks ago. Despite his declining skill, he could still rake in 25 million dollars for one fight by himself. I'm not sure how he lost either, especially in his prime. His otherwise amazing record is only slightly marred by his recent losses, which have led to his retirement.

1. "The Greatest" Muhammad Ali--No surprise here. The quintessential champ for the TV age, Ali was the definition of a boxer. Unmatched speed and accuracy, especially for a heavyweight. Ali will show you what boxing is supposed to look like. He was a loud-mouth and even a jerk in his time, some say, but there is no doubt he backed up the talk. There is noone whose fights I enjoy more. Even aging Ali (sans his final two fights) was amazing. I don't have words adequate for the non-fan to understand. Just know that there's a reason you've heard of him, and it has little to do with Islam or Viet Nam, at the end of the day.